SOUND FROM THE BENCH

ensemble SATB choir, two electric guitars, drums/percussion
commissioned by The Crossing and Volti
text Jena Osman
premiere May 16, 2014, San Francisco: Volti, Robert Geary, conductor
June 15, 2014, Philadelphia: The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor
with Taylor Levine and James Moore, electric guitars, and Ron Wiltrout, drums
publisher Unsettlement Music
recording live recording available below, album coming soon from Cantaloupe Music
 

The piece is scored for two electric guitars and drums alongside the chorus, and the relations between the two groups — the mechanized, scarily protean sounds of the instruments on one side and the distinctly human singing on the other — turns into a deft and fertile metaphor. It helps that Hearne writes with such technical assurance and imaginative scope. The cantata ranges widely in approach, from sculptural pastiches to vast dramatic anthems to utterances of limpid tenderness (one late movement is a gentle, lovely pop song whose rhythms slowly drift out of phase.)
— Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle (5.19.14)
In ‘Sound from the Bench,’ Hearne confronted big-picture issues with a huge variety of ideas bumping into each other... Two electric guitars and a percussionist resembled emergency alarms, often with a vocal obbligato that kept the piece from being merely industrial. Compelling, densely packed harmonies were served up by female voices.
— David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer (6.18.14)

notes Sound From the Bench is a 35-minute cantata for chamber choir, two electric guitars and drums, with a libretto by Jena Osman. It was co-commissioned by Volti and The Crossing. 

why these texts?
Sound From the Bench is a reaction to Jena Osman's incredible book "Corporate Relations," a collection of poems that follows the historical trajectory of corporate personhood in the United States. The five movements combine language taken from landmark Supreme Court Cases with words from ventriloquism textbooks.
I was instantly drawn to Osman's work because of its rich intertextuality: she appropriates a variety of texts from diverse sources and assembles them into a powerful bricolage. I strive toward a similar polyphony of oppositional voices and perspectives in my music, and to bring the chaotic forces of life into the work itself. It was this impulse, and the unabashedly political tone of Osman's poetry, that made me want to set some part of "Corporate Relations" to music. 

why electric guitars?
Sound From the Bench is built around the tension between the human voice and electric guitar. The electric guitar can sound like literally anything. Through circuitry, programming, and analog and digital manipulation, the pitches and rhythms a guitarist plays can be utterly transformed, erasing all human touch. It speaks through an amplifier and could easily drown out any voice. These cyborg-esque qualities contrast the human voice, both in its inescapable limitations and the complex differences found in every individual vocal timbre. 

what does "no mouth" mean?
No mouth is Osman's paraphrase of the central reasoning behind the majority in Bellotti v. First National Bank, the 1978 case upon which Citizens United is based: because corporations don't have a literal mouth, they cannot literally speak, therefore advertising is their only available method of communication and must be considered speech (and is entitled to First Amendment protections as such). 

The phrase the very heart, also found in the second movement, is excerpted from Justice White's dissent in this case: "It has long been recognized, however, that the special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process."

about the third movement
The central movement sets words from the oral argument to Citizens United. My brain started firing when I realized this poem of Jena's was a literal erasure of the Supreme Court document – every phrase appeared in order, and in a position approximating the horizontal spot it appeared on the page. When I printed out the full 83-page oral argument and blacked out every phrase that Jena hadn't included, the remaining words jumped out at me and started to take on new meanings and inferences. That strange, new energy helped propel the decontextualized text into music.

The time at which the phrases appear approximate and in some way preserve the place at which they appear in the original document. The music between Osman's text, that which fills the "blank pages," sometimes includes a quote from Thomas Tallis's motet Loquebantur Variis Linguis (the text is: "The Apostles spoke in different tongues – Alleluia.") Aside from loving this music, I liked the image of our Justices as apostles. 

"personhood"
What could this word even mean when it is applied to non-human things? The courts have systematically granted constitutional rights to corporations since the Civil War - we concede that a corporation can "speak" even though it has no mouth – and these rights have come at the expense of both the private citizen and the government. 

a corporation is to a person as a person is to a machine

friends of the court we know them as good and bad, they too are sheep
and goats ventriloquizing the ghostly fiction

a corporation is to a body as a body is to a puppet

putting it in caricature, if there are natural persons then there are those
who are not that, buying candidates. there are those who are strong on
the ground and then weak in the air. weight shifts to the left leg while
the propaganda arm extends.
(Jena Osman, from Corporate Relations)

- program notes by Ted Hearne, with passages after Eric Howerton's review of Corporate Relations for "The Volta Blog"

 

listen:

Hear the whole piece on Bandcamp


WORKS

 

LARGE WORKS WITH VOICES

Coloring Book (2015, 30 min.)
vocal octet
The Source (2014, 65 min.)
7 instruments, 4 voices
Sound from the Bench (2014, 40 min.)
mixed choir with 2 electric guitars and percussion
Partition (2010, 20 min.)
mixed choir with full orchestra
Katrina Ballads (2007, 60 min.)
11 instruments, 5 voices


ORCHESTRA

Dispatches (2015, 18 min.)
large orchestra
Respirator (2015, 13 min.)
chamber orchestra
Stem (2013, 25 min.)
large orchestra
Law of Mosaics (2012, 30 min.)
string orchestra
First World (2012, 7 min.)
large chamber orchestra
Erasure Scherzo (2012, 6 min.)
large orchestra
Word for Word (2011, 10 min.)
large orchestra
Build a Room (2010, 20 min.)
concerto for trumpet and orchestra
Patriot (2007, 9 min.)
large orchestra


SOLO

DaVZ23BzMH0 (2016, 7 min.)
solo cello, with electronics
Parlor Diplomacy (2011, 20 min.)
solo piano
Nobody's (2010, 4 min.)
solo violin


CHAMBER MUSIC (2-5 instruments)

The Answer to the Question That Wings Ask (2016, 11 min.)
string quartet and narrator
Furtive Movements (2013, 14 min.)
cello and percussion
Interlude for Fingers (2013, 4 min.)
two vibraphones
Licorice Men (2011, 8 min.)
electric guitar quartet
Thaw (2009, 12 min.)
percussion quartet
Vessels (2008, 10 min.)
violin, viola, piano
Ghostspace (2009, 8 min.)
accordion, electric guitar, piano, drums
Crib Dweller (2007, 8 min.)
bass clarinet, trumpet, horn, trombone, elec. guitar
Warning Song (2006, 7 min.)
voice and cello, with electronics
23 (2005, 8 min.)
flute, horn, elec. guitar, piano, drums
One of Us, One of Them (2005, 8 min.)
piano and percussion
Forcefield (2004, 5 min.)
viola and vibraphone

CHAMBER MUSIC (6-13 instruments)

For the love of Charles Mingus (2016, 9 min.)
6 violins
Baby [an argument] (2016, 11 min.)
10 instruments
By-By Huey (2014, 10 min.)
6 instruments (vln, vc, fl, bcl, pno, perc)
"The Cage" Variations (2014, 20 min.)
6 instruments (fl, cl/bcl, vln, vc, pno, perc) with baritone solo
Crispy Gentlemen (2012, 15 min.)
7 instruments (fl/picc, cl/bcl, vln, vla, vc, pno, perc)
But I Voted for Shirley Chisholm (2012, 8 min.)
11 instruments, with electronics
Randos (2012, 8 min.)
7 instruments (L'Histoire septet)
Cutest Little Arbitrage (2011, 12 min.)
6 instruments (2 sax, trombone + rhythm section)
Is it Dirty (2010, 8 min.)
16 instruments with 2 singers
(alternate versions for 10 and 6 instruments)
Eyelid Margin (2009, 12 min.)
10 instruments (brass quintet + 5 double-reeds)
Snowball (2008, 6 min.)
8 instruments (bcl, tpt, tbn, vln, acc, egtr, pno, dr)
7 instruments (alt. version for L'Histoire septet)
Illuminating the Maze (2008, 15 min.)
6 instruments (tpt, hn, tbn, egtr, pno, dr)
Music from "Body Soldiers" (2008, 10 min.)
5 instruments with singer
Cordavi and Fig (2007, 8 min.)
13 instruments
Antiphon (2003, 8 min.)
9 instruments (3 cl, bcl, 3 tpt, tbn, pno)


CHORAL MUSIC

Coloring Book (2015, 30 min.)
Consent (2014, 7 min.)
Ripple (2012, 10 min.)
Privilege (2009, 14 min.)
Mass for St. Mary’s (2008, 10 min.)

Music for youth choir:
Room for Something (2011, 8 min.)
Away (2010, 6 min.)
Because (2006, 6 min.)
Murder on the Road in Alabama (2003, 6 min.)


SOLO VOICE

Intimacy and Resistance (2010, 5 min.)
voice and piano
Charleston Songbook (2008, 20 min.)
voice and piano w/ lead sheets
I Remember (2007, 8 min.)
for three sopranos, or one soprano w/ electronics
I Carry Your Heart (2007, 5 min.)
voice and piano


COLLABORATIVE WORKS

Hand Eye (2015)
New Dances for the League of David (2014) 
You're Causing Quite a Disturbance (2013)
R WE WHO R WE (2013)
Histories (2012)